Chinese seek family history

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The Chinese "paper" brides and sons who came to this country in the past century present a special challenge in Chinese family history research, said Jeanie W. Chooey Low, a genealogist.

Members of San Francisco's Chinese community attend family history workshop.
Members of San Francisco's Chinese community attend family history workshop. Photo: Photo courtesy San Francisco multi-stake public affairs

She spoke to more than 200 people who filled the Chinese Culture Center auditorium March 30 in San Francisco's Chinatown to learn how to find their roots. The date was chosen to coincide with Qing Ming, the time of the year when Chinese traditionally remember their ancestors.

Sponsored by the Chinese Historical Society of America, the Chinese Culture Foundation and the San Francisco Multi-Stake Public Affairs, the family history workshop featured genealogists from the Chinese-American community and from the Church's Family History Center.

The paper brides and sons, said Mrs. Low, came as members of other families to escape restrictive immigration laws. Once here, they did not easily tell their children the stories of their immigration out of fear of discovery. Thus, many of the true life stories were not passed on to children.

She discussed her own family searches and pointed out some of the difficulties Chinese Americans face in getting started with research, including not being able to speak or read the Chinese language.

Mrs. Low explained that getting these stories from the older generation requires careful listening, asking questions and being attentive to the stories that come from those questions. In her slide presentation, Mrs. Low showed how photographs, tombstones, even clothing, can give clues to the family history and location of ancestral villages. Her book, China Connection, has many examples to help for those just getting started in Chinese family history.

Mel Thatcher of the Family History Center in Salt Lake City spoke of the resources available through the Family History Centers and on-line through the computer. He explained that the Personal Ancestry File (PAF5) can be purchased or down loaded from the Internet and is now in many languages, including Chinese.

Church member Grace Wong Kurtz, originally from Singapore, planned and introduced the program. Melissa Szeto, executive director of the Chinese Historical Society of America; Hon Seng Cheng, executive director of the Chinese Culture Foundation; and Camilla Smith, multi-stake director of public affairs, each welcomed the participants and explained the importance of the workshop to their organizations.

Chinese-speaking and English-speaking missionaries from the California San Francisco Mission were volunteers at the event.

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